By Inderia Saunders
Guardian Business Reporter
PALM BEACH, USA -- Months after the Freeport Container Port (FCP) in The Bahamas projected multi-million-dollar investments based around it being the largest regional harbour, Florida has announced $77 million in dredging set to make the state the leading trans-shipment point in the area.
The plan is set to complicate what up until March had been pretty secure expansion plans for the Grand Bahama company.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said the dredging of the Port of Miami will make it the hub for trade for the East Coast, if not for the country.
“We are clearly going to be the shipping capital,” he said at the Palm Beach Strategic Forum on Monday. “International trade is a big opportunity for us.”
His statements were backed by several economists at the conference. The $77 million dredging project in that state is expected to create around 33,000 jobs, with Miami to be a first port of call for ships coming through an expanded Panama Canal.
Guardian Business was unsuccessful in obtaining a comment from the Freeport Container Port on the planned expansion in Florida up to press time.
Officials at the Grand Bahama company had been anticipating a “perfect economic storm” of conditions to cement negotiations with at least three of the world’s mega shipping companies.
It was all in an effort to be at the forefront of changes in the global shipping industry. FCP Chief Executive Gary Gilbert said recently that a mix of external factors will likely drive more container shipping to Grand Bahama within the next two years and grow the port’s business by 400 percent. That’s growth the company is preparing for with a major berth expansion project from 3 to 20 berths to be executed over the next ten years.
“What we have is an economically perfect storm that we believe is brewing on our behalf,” the CEO of FCP, a Hutchison Whampoa company, said earlier. “We believe transshipment in Freeport is significant… and we think [growth] will happen explosively.”
“A major shift pattern is happening now. By 2014/2015 significantly bigger ships will be coming from the Suez [Canal] into the Panama Canal. This is a significant problem for the US East Coast because none of the ports have the depth, so where do they go? They come to us. We have the depth right now.”
The shipping industry is now plowing ahead in outfitting itself with the kind of bigger vessels that will not only be more fuel efficient than the current fuel hogs, but cost about 30 percent less to build, use 35 percent less berthing space and will utilise roughly 50 percent less crew members.
That mass shift in ships from the capacity of around 4,400 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) to 12,600 TEUs has led to the current expansion plans of the Panama Canal, now increasing its vessel size capacity to 13,000 TEUs in order to accommodate the biggest of these vessels.
The Container Port, the deepest port in the region at 52 feet, was in a good position to fill the void left in the market -- that is before Florida announced its plans.
It’s now unclear what lies in store in regards to the company’s growth and the jobs that would have been created on the island.